Month: October 2013

mornings

In some ways, this has been the perfect morning.  Instead of waking to an alarm, screaming or singing in my ear, i turned everything off last night with the express intention of myself sleep and dream until i no longer had need of either.

awakeningWednesday and Thursday  are supposed to be days off from the Studio + Showroom, and at long last, i’m starting to take that seriously.  My endless to-do list might suffer slightly from my taking time away from work, but work was suffering from not having time to myself.

i admit that i need down time.  My ex husband would probably be elated to hear this – if he remembers any of our arguments about my being work-obsessed – but i have finally learned something he tried to teach me.  My body and my mind, if not my ever-eager heart, find moments when i am still and quiet and allow myself to recharge absolutely necessary.

For years, my main down-time had been when i had quite literally crashed too far to work.  i have artistic endeavors that govern nearly all levels of ability.  If i am fit and hardy, then i can throw.  If i am feeling a little weaker, but am still mobile that is the time for sculpting or painting.  If standing feels like a burden, then i can code websites, do promotional work on social media, and of course, write. A notebook and a pen in bed have been the midwives for the birth of many words.

first movementsHowever, the push to do the absolute limit that i could every single waking moment rarely let up. It is as if working proved to myself that i had meaning. And these creative endeavors bring me such happiness. Time spent doing chores or even taking the dog to the beach felt stolen.

Until the last six months or so, that is how i perceived at down-time.  It wasn’t a time to relax, but instead it was time to focus on some form of creativity that was more intellectual than physical. When i was truly down – due to illness or injury – i comforted myself with the thought that i had done all i could as long as i could.  No solace could be taken in my immobility and inability, they had to be endured until i could work again.

However, the need for quite stillness is no longer something that i can deny.no words

Actually, i blame meditation for making me accept the lesson that my ex tried to teach.  i started meditating regularly a year ago.  i began a meditation group not quite two months ago and i still meditate on my own nearly every day.  Anyway, there is something about the stillness and quiet that comes when meditation actually works (as opposed to the other day when i wrote about how characters from my story had their way with me) that is delicious, nourishing and joyous.

And now, i crave that blissful calm.  This morning i sought it out actively. My body ached, my head still felt feverish. Every sense of my being wanted that quiet stillness.

For a good half hour, i laid in bed awake and able to move, but utterly still in both mind and body.  The comfort of the mattress below me, the warmth of the covers and the crisp morning air against my cheeks filled me with sensation.  Light from the window played across my face, delighting me with its gentle warmth.  i gave myself time to lie there and simply be, with the cat purring beside me, the dog moaning in his dreams at my knees, listening to the other cat fight imaginary dragons in the living room.  Thoughts barely existed, and those thawhile workingt came up floated through my mind like dandelion spores.

Now that i am up and moving, i continue to feel deliciously unburdened.  i am more centered than i have been in days.  Writing still has a firm grip on me but i do not suffer from any guilt or remorse over taking these hours to be kind to myself.  This is a huge transformation for which i am amazingly grateful.

But i’d better get back to writing the book before i start feeling lazy.

dreaming and writing

from a dream
from a dream

i dream stories that seem like movies more than i dream traditionally. Wait, that may not be totally true, i don’t remember every dream. The more accurate statement is that the preponderance of dreams which i remember, those that wake me up agitated and eager, that justify the steno pad and pen that have been my constant sleeping companions for years, are stories.

In these dreams, i frequently cast Hollywood actors, but not always at their current ages; it becomes this fabulous mash-up of all eras of acting.  Unabashedly, i kidnap elements from one genre to another.  For example, steampunk, erotica and science fiction can intertwine seamlessly.  i rewind the action and redirect the story’s flow if i dislike where it is going. My subconscious has a cutting-room floor. Sometimes, i look out through a character’s eyes, but i am rarely fully present in one. Instead, elements of my psyche and experience flow from one character to another.

From another dream, and now part of another story.
From another dream, and now part of another story.

i am simultaneously the god of the story and it’s slave. i wake up from these dreams with an overwhelming need to write it down.  Energy and urgency course through me that are painful to deny.

That is how i spent the first five hours of this morning.  The first segment and the last segment of the tale – so clear in my mind when i awoke – have been scribbled down or typed in directly into the computer.  While i tried to meditate, and in this case it was most certainly an attempt rather than an accomplishment, these new characters were ringing through my mind, talking to each other, getting reacquainted.  It’s fascinating to me that the events which were the most wrenching while i was dreaming became mere vehicles in the actual writing, the wheels on which character development turned.

celebration
celebration

i was supposed to throw today.  i have a huge angel downstairs, half sculpted, waiting for my attention. At some point, i might want to think about breakfast or getting a sweater because it’s actually cold up here.

Seriously, i should be more adult about this and do the things that are a higher priority.  But, even stopping to write this blog while the story settled before i add in the middle bits was a nearly herculean feat of concentration. My brain worked on two tracks the whole time: blog about story and story.

So, for right now, i have thrown everything else to the wind. i’m in the realm of David and Anna and their children.

Eventually this impulse will pause, giving way to the other things on my to-do list, but in this moment –  i’m reveling in an ecstasy of writing.

 

the universe provides

By DG Arts

Last year, I started a group with a few other artists.  I feel like this is still a project in its infancy, even though we might be toddling about by now.  Regardless of its age, Maine Artists Group represents something very important to me.

My work most often means being alone.  Even when I share space with other artists here at the Studio + Showroom, we are all working on our own projects, dwelling half in reality and half inside our imaginations.  As much jovial conversation as we have burble forth, there are equally long stretches of silence while we all focus on what we are doing and tune out the rest of the world.  It can create isolation if not loneliness.

by John Wombacher of Sundial Photography
by John Wombacher of Sundial Photography

Also, being an artist implies a certain level of vulnerability and instability.  My last blog entry talked about the boundless gratitude I feel for my customers and patrons.  Part of that comes from the unavoidable fact that they are not mandated to buy my art.  No legislation exists that demands everyone in the country purchase an asha fenn original.

Nor does the lack of my artwork in their home fill people with unbearable shame.  Instead, I have the great blessing of knowing my work is purchased by people who love it enough to go out of their way to make it theirs.  Which means that I have to look at this life I lead as a gift rather than something that is owed to me; financial vulnerability has become something of a constant.

 

In my wildest dreams, Maine Artists Group was to be a way to mitigate these problems.  Pooling together the resources of artists to have an online store, to promote each other’s work, to have a community that we can rely on.

by Leslie Wombacher of Sundial Photography
by Leslie Wombacher of Sundial Photography

Only, right now, almost eighteen months in, we are in flux.  We have lost members and gained members. Beginnings bear their own special difficulties: success is a dream rather than a proven possibility. Some members of the group are having harder times, some better, and all of us have a shortage of time to dedicate to building this community.  This enterprise requires effort from each member and we cannot always give it the energy we should. At least, I know that is true for me.  The rest of my life has crept in and kept me from doing everything I wanted to.  I feel like I have failed my friends, these artists I believe in so strongly.  I have also done my best which helps soothe my mood, but still feels inadequate.

But I am nothing if I am not stubborn.  Bullheaded to the point of stupidity, barreling forward with my dreams even when it seems like insanity to others.  I recommit to making a living at my art every morning when I wake up.

by Shawna Mayo Barnes of JSB Arts
by Shawna Mayo Barnes of JSB Arts

A few days ago, while I was in a gallery in Belfast, I was fretting (doodling frowns) over the future of the Maine Artists Group and what the future holds.  I do this aimless worrying too often.  An artist from Washington State, here on vacation, and I started talking.  He pointed to the doodles in front of me, the pottery on the other side of the room and the slideshow of my artwork moving cross the screen of my iPad before him.

“The universe provides.”  He said, “You pour your heart and soul into this and you are so talented.  Don’t fret.  The universe provides.”

“Ah,”  I smiled, for I never tire of hearing that I am talented, “but she doesn’t always provide in a timely manner.”

“That’s the point.”  He laughed, “You have to be patient and keep working.”

by Janelle Delicata
by Janelle Delicata

As he left, I thought that he was right.  Patience is not my greatest virtue, but stubbornness and determination can make up for what I lack in calm composure.  Most of all, I could no more stop doing this work than I  could stop breathing.  Actually, I imagine that the cessation of the latter will be the only thing to stop the former.  As I returned to my doodling after he left, I kept thinking “the universe will provide” could be a good mantra.

When I sat down to write this – a post on Maine Artists Group been long overdue – I realized my primary focus was to thank all the artists I have been working with during past year and a half.  However, I also need to use these words as a reminder (to myself more than anyone else) that success is not instantaneous.  Even when we want it to be.  Even when we demand that it come with loud impudence.

For the universe provides in her own sweet time.

In Gratitude for Customers

blue black white bowls As an artist, one of the things that gets me the most happy is when i get to talk to my customers, find out what they like about my work and get a chance to thank them for giving me their business.  i know that nearly everyone has to count their pennies right now – spending $15 on a mug or $30 on a bowl or $100 on a casserole requires budgeting.  Their willingness to spend hard-earned money on the work of my hands always humbles me and fills me with gratitude.

i am aware that most of my work falls within the realm of an affordable luxury – not so expensive that it is prohibitive, but still a luxury.  However, this is the income that pays my bills and feeds me, as well as sustaining my art itself.  Each sale makes me thankful whether it is here at the Pottery, Art & Writing Studio + Showroom or at one of the galleries that sells my work or online.

duck and bowlToday, two of my most loyal customers came to place their orders for Christmas.  This is the third year in a row that they have sought me out and made commissions.  Each time, they have filled me with happiness and gratitude.

Every once in a while i have to pinch myself to make sure that this is real: i have people who come here again and again to buy my work.  They seek me out, call me to make appointments, set up orders that will ship all over the world.  This is wondrous.  A huge amount of my yearly income comes from people coming back, making commissions as well as buying already finished art – through their loyalty they help me continue to work at what i love.  What more could i ask for?

In addition to thanking them while they were here making the purchase, i feel like throwing out my arms wide and singing thanksgivings to the universe at large.

i get to keep making art!  Thank you!

 

 

 

leaking fiction

The gallery has been quiet today, just a few people glancing in the window and wandering inside to browse. i actually made the first purchase, hoping to start some momentum, buying a card from one of my fellow artists.  Usually i have a thousand things to do while i am here: poems to type in, essays to edit, drawing i want to get done, a stack of graphic design work and always some accounting to address.  Today, though, i had very few obligations. The clutter of things has dispersed. The overcast sky, the gratitude from yesterday, the lull in sales have all created this stillness within me. i have been doodling, blogging, but mostly losing myself inside stories.

Fiction burns like fire within my mind.  It demands my full attention.  The prose that i write consistently gets put on the back burner.  Poems manage to creep out in the spare moments between other responsibilities, but writing novels requires a massive amount of time, commitment and comfortable clothes.

For the past four years, i’ve been able to throw more of my energy into prose starting in the fall. Even though i continue to stay busy through Christmas, i convince myself that i have more spare time once the weather turns, even if reality doesn’t conform to the assumption.

My imagination has noticed that the leaves have begun to fall.  Characters keep popping into my head, shouting about their needs.  Every moment when my brain is not fully occupied, scenes race across the screen of my awareness and make my fingers tremble with anticipation of time spent with pen or keyboard.  Without quite realizing it, while i sat here in front of my computer today, making notes on what swirls through my mind, i lost my awareness that there was a universe around me – i grew so focused on the one within.  Hours have passed while i have been daydreaming stories and waiting for customers to arrive.  More than once, i surprised myself by mumbling streams of dialogue to see if the words fit together with grace.  i meant for that to stay within the confines of my skull.  Each time the sound startled me, i resolved to buy a bluetooth earpiece so i won’t look quite so crazy next time.

However, that leaves the basic reality unchanged. These stories are literally leaking out of me.

painting

studio_starti am filled with gratitude.  Some friends have been helping me with my studio – doing a job i can’t: paint the outside of it.  For four years, it has looked more like a scary garage than a Studio and Showroom because i cannot manage to paint it myself.  A latex allergy keeps me away from most forms of house paint, which frustrates me because before the allergy became crippling, i enjoyed painting quite a lot.  While life as an artist has kept me in food, clothes, clay and art supplies, it has not left me with thousands of extra dollars to pay professional painters.

Now the edifice has transformed!  The front side of the studio has now been painted!  The side facing the road is scheduled to be be done the first week of November (weather permitting)!  i sing and dance with joy!

As they worked, part of me felt a wave of sorrow that i couldn’t be out there helping them help me, but then i realized – this was a fantastic moment for me to allow two lessons to settle into my awareness.

First, no matter how much i attempt to coax myself into believing that i’m totally independent and fierce, i actually depend upon the kindness of others quite a lot.  When i fall into the most lonely places, all i can see is solitude enveloping me and remain blind to the great oceans of friendship in which i swim.  The fact that the kindness of other finds its way to me absolutely thrills me and leaves me ridiculously grateful.studio1

Second, this proved to me that i am still committed to my work no matter how many spasms of anxiety and fear i have been enduring the past two weeks.  Thankfully, the thought “Oh, my God! No one is ever going to buy my art again!  This life of joy and bliss is over!” doesn’t charge through my mind as often as it did in the beginning, but when it does it leaves me limping for a few moments.  The realization that i am just a beginner as far as running a small business goes can also leave me shaken.  Leaps like this prove to my doubts that i am continuing to learn and move forward despite them.

Seeing (from a safe distance) the studio transform into this beautiful bright yellow and blue, looking more like a business than it ever has before, leaves me grinning ear to ear.  One side down, two more to go.

angels

bare angeli have been sculpting angels of late.  This whole effort started out as a potential commission, but once i realized i had a cognitive limit, i became determined to break through.  Each time i made an angel, i made it too detail oriented.  The client wanted fluid lines and nothing sharp but the wings.  The picture to the left was mentioned as a possible template for an angel along with things he sent.

Only abstraction in clay turned out to be quite difficult for me.  When painting, i am at ease with abstraction. i don’t have to have a face or features or anything more than the suggestion of something.  Color and brushstroke become paramount. However, in clay i craved definition.  i have done three sculptures so far, each progressively more abstract, and none of them quite meet the image i have in my mind.

i make it sound hard but, truthfully, this is so much fun for me, it’s almost indecent.  i adore experimenting and exploring new forms.  Trying to figure out the best way to create a new product line has always been one of my favorite things – time management, streamlined production, art version. i derive a deeply nerdy joy from it.  Now i’m imagining tree toppers and wall hangings and Christmas ornaments and other lovely things.

Which is why i had to force myself to sit here and blog. My fingers itch for clay. Those first three sculptures are ready to glaze.  There are more waiting to come through my hands.  My brain is full of impatient angels.

 

Three small poems

 

darwin

He growls,
wide eyes
still shining from sleep.
Raising his head
from the pillow,
vigilance writ
upon his groggy face,
the dog is caught
in that moment
when dreams and reality
coexist.

 

 

 

 

My heart breaks
when it meets hopelessness.
Dreams half-formed
then thrown away,
glistening in the trash
where I just tossed
the debris from my lunch.

 

 

insomnia

What would my life be
without this lonely,
aching
pain?
To what glory
would I have I transcended?
Or, would I have remained
distracted?
For I could not fail
to notice suffering’s gift:
it exposed
the marrow
of my bliss.

advertising and obstinance

eagle altered 4 copyThree human interactions left me feeling more unsteady on my feet this week. Each time i fortified myself and wound up on better ground after the spasm passed, but each incident left a deep impression.  They echoed the dance we all perform: balancing on the delicate wire that slides between hope, confidence and optimism on one side and despair, vulnerability and surrender on the other.

The first interaction: a nice couple walked into the studio and found the range of work that i do a little overwhelming.  The husband, in particular, laughed with some combination of delight and doubt as i described the book i am currently writing (in response to his question, “What is the writing part of the Pottery, Art and Writing Studio?”) and asked that i prove that i write poetry.  That is easily done – i have a few memorized and when pressed further could call up on my computer the file with this year’s poems.

“Do you ever finish anything?”  He laughed, “Because this is too much for one person.”

While i instantly provided him with poetry collections, paintings, sculptures and pottery to purchase – all finished – i had to hide my deepest reactions.  Internally, i wobbled. He hit a large vein of insecurity in me.  Sometimes projects – paintings and writing in particular – must wait until i have the time and the right energy to finish.  Some stories are not meant for bright, sunny days. Pottery can be a bully, demanding my time to the detriment of other forms of art. If my mood is good, i am not going to edit a hundred poems about despair.  Unfortunately, i am not always in the right mental space to create a large sculpture of a joyous, loving angel.

However, describing my process began to sound like a list of excuses or some form of laziness.  So many pieces sit undeniably unfinished, perpetually in progress, scattered throughout the studio.

flying After he left, i felt vaguely uncomfortable in my skin.  Suddenly, i was the unfinished project. Could the vast swaths of pieces in the mid-point of creation mean that i am not truly an artist at all?  The thought itched my brain until i was in bed, curled up under covers, feeling woefully incomplete.  So, i made a list of all the things i’ve finished in 2013 (not counting the pottery, because there were hundreds and hundreds of pieces in that category).  i have finished a business plan, restructuring my finances to make the business more viable, drafts of two novels, three collections of poetry, and hundreds of poems as yet uncollected.  Even my house has been reorganized and purged.  By the time i got ten items into the list, i fell asleep inside a wave of contentment.  Things do get finished.  i awoke the next morning feeling more at peace with myself as a creature being constantly created.

Fire breather The second interaction: i was talking to another artist.  She is in a very different place than i am economically and physically.  This is really all i can do effectively, in part because my mind and heart are aligned to art and writing in a way that makes other jobs almost painful. Quite literally, there is nothing else i would rather be doing.  While i long for love –  a relationship and a family –  more than i can say, if i had to give up my art for those things, i would be unable to make the sacrifice. This drive continues even as i struggle with my health and my body’s ability to function.  Working for myself is one of my better options –  i can moderate my activity depending upon my energy, pain and inspiration.

These differences lead our conversation into uncomfortable terrain.  She visualizes her path forward much differently than the road i am traveling.  And, she is having remarkable success.  i admit that she might have a much better sense of how to sell art and how to structure a life in general than i do.

dreamsThat said, i could not accept her dismissal of my ideas and change course. i am continuing down the road i had marked for myself.  i have begun to advertise, focus more on the online store, to treat my art as much like a business as i can without completely surrendering my own ambitions for what i create.

Keeping myself in the position where i can continue to make art requires a certain amount of magical thinking.  i believe advertising will help because i am an artist doing good work.  The complete and obsessive stubbornness that i focus on my artwork becomes a benefit, because i believe success will only happen when i pour my heart into this endeavor.  While her certainty that specific things i am doing are not useful shook me, it did not cause surrender.

At this stage in my life, i’m beginning to realize that it can be a good thing for someone to question my plans, my assumptions and my determination.  Being shaken up can help me see things more clearly.  Not every piece of advice can be taken – although i try to give each consideration.  A few times i have been inspired to change direction and others i have become more comfortable continuing on with the choices and plans i have made.  This time, her strong opinions had the latter effect. What is right for me is not for her, and vice-versa.  The difference does not make either of us less determined or less of an artist.  In a very real way, neither of us is wrong and neither right; we both move forward using our individuality, determination and circumstances as our guides.

The third interaction was with a doctor.  It shook me by reasserting something i know all too well:  this life i lead is a gift.  My ability to make art is not a given, it could go away.  My mobility could get worse; my health issues more of an impediment. i have already gone through spells where my brain hasn’t worked well enough to write.  As we spoke, gratitude shot down to my bones. My entire thought process became protective: how to keep myself working, how to create as much stability in this chaos as i can. i am so grateful for the ability to do what i love and knowing it could change makes it all more precious.  It makes my drive to work even more profound.

i continue on – making art, marketing the art, believing magically and praying that my efforts bring success.  blue, black and white bowls

While i was in the middle of this entry, a customer came to the studio.  She fondled nearly every bowl and nearly wept at not being able to buy them.  At no point did she complain about my prices; she talked about how they were just.  i work as hard as i can to have my prices be reasonable while not actually putting me out of business, so her understanding gratified me.  Alas, she is being hit hard financially.  She asked if i had seconds, damaged pieces, anything that might be in her price range.  And at that point i realized, i will never be a great business person.  She got a discount much bigger than i should have given.  But, i was feeling grateful for all i have.  There are hard times all around right now – and i know that bowl is going to a good home.  Just the smile on someone’s face can make me realize there is a purpose to all my adverting and obstinance.